Stakeholder Management for Early-Stage PMs

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Most importantly, you must ascertain that all of your stakeholders are aligned on your product vision and the ones that matter are actively engaged in decision-making. 

As a product manager, you are the centre that holds all parts together and ensures communication is kept open across all stakeholders involved in your product’s life cycle. Often, you will find yourself constantly communicating with a specific group of stakeholders daily while your touchpoints with others may happen intermittently. Most importantly, you must ascertain that all of your stakeholders are aligned on your product vision and the ones that matter are actively engaged in decision-making. 

Who are your stakeholders?

In startups, when building products, your first stakeholders are:

  • Management (Co-founders mostly )
  • Product team (Engineers, Designers, Marketing guys )

Your External Stakeholders in practical cases are:

  • Customers
  • Investors
  • Regulators

Stakeholder management simply breaks down how to manage the relationship with each of these categories in the most productive way. This hovers mostly around communication—what kind of information, what level of details, communication channel preference, level of direct influence, or their impact on the product.

Stakeholder management for products mostly starts from within and you will spend most of the time building the right relationship with your engineering team, design team and management team. Each of these stakeholders has a resounding impact on your product.

Management

This group, in a smaller setting or early-stage startups, are the co-founders, who are in most cases the product owners and pioneers for the product. In bigger settings, there is a VP of product who initiates products (after getting board approval for the year on budget and the likes). 

As a PM, you are best positioned initially to help prioritise features to be built and leverage the best approach from your own research. You are mostly the one working with the product development team to ensure that the products or features are released in line with the existing product roadmap. 

Hence, for management folks (founders, VP Products, CPOs, Group PMs): You are providing updates and progress with respect to the roadmap, you are prioritising features and grooming the backlog constantly.

Product Team

For engineers and designers, you are investing in building a relationship that can make you make some stressful demands when that time comes. you try to understand what and how they would love to be communicated with.

But your communication with this category also depends on your predominant PM Strength (Business, Design or Tech). It might be easier to communicate deeper details on business with the business guys if you have a business background. If you have an engineering background, it’s easier to communicate in detail with engineering and so on. Ultimately you must learn to communicate with all parties involved.

Customers

Your customers are your first priority. Your communication with them must reflect how much you care about their needs and understand the problems they are facing. To iterate or improve your product offerings, there is a need to keep in constant touch and leverage their feedback for continuous product improvement. Most importantly, you need to be able to speak their language with empathy.

Investors

This category of stakeholders wield financial power over your product and requires strategic communication. They are interested in the financial performance of your product, its prospect in new markets, the management systems in place to ensure quality control over resources. To communicate with these stakeholders, you need to be analytical and objective in your approach.  

Regulators

They are policymakers who are more concerned about compliance with industry regulations, government policies and existing consumer policies. Their effort can have a direct and indirect impact on product performance, market success and overall business objectives.    

Do all stakeholders necessarily have to be consulted? 

In some cases, you may need only a few stakeholders to make certain decisions and scale quickly. For example, you need customers, engineers, designers, marketers and to decide on a feature your CEO thinks should be added to a product. 

To ensure you don’t exclude the key stakeholders, you need to:

  • Have clear objectives for seeking their opinions or consent
  • Identify the stakeholders whose actions influence your progress. 
  • If you’re new to the team, ask questions about the necessary authorities or persons that should be in the picture before taking any steps.

When should stakeholders be consulted?

Ideally, you should consistently engage stakeholders throughout a product’s lifecycle. You want to ensure they don’t get to know about development only when you are about to finalise a decision, add a new feature, release a feature, sign up an influencer or bring on a new partner. Communicate early and consistently. 

How do you manage your stakeholders?

You may notice that it is easy to get buy-in from some stakeholders while some might prove somewhat difficult to convince. A stakeholder who has invested financially in your product certainly has more reasons to disagree with certain decisions or need to see results to give consent on certain matters. So aligning them with product goals and your product team activities is very important. 

The following table highlights the important parameters you need to effectively manage stakeholders:

Stakeholder TypeInterests and MotivationImpact/RiskCommunication Preference
Who are you building for?What do they like about the product?What is the level of their influence on the product?What communication channel do they most prefer?
Who are the people you must consult to make decisions fast?
What part of the product gets them excited?
Are they financially invested in the product?How do often do they want to be updated on progress—daily/weekly/monthly? Do they prefer reporting by milestones? 

Are they an advocate of the product value? 
Do they prefer consistent communication?
Does their expertise affect development?Do they like to see a deck laced with data and results?
Do they usually prove difficult to convince?Are they motivated by user subscriptions, testimonials, or revenue streams?Can their withdrawal affect the success of the product?Will a check-in call suffice to bring them up to speed?

Do they like to be recognised and involved in decision-making?
Can their policy affect the sustainability of the product?Do they prefer a detailed email conversation?
Why are they interested in the product?Do they prefer to talk in an informal setting or keep communication formal?

 

Whether you want to engage customers, product teams, executives, regulators, or investors, ensure you have a working plan so as to ensure you tick off all your objectives while discussing with them. Find out ahead, what communication medium does each type of stakeholder prefers.

Following this article, we will be running a poll on practicing product managers to pick lessons from their experience managing stakeholders and proven strategies they leveraged to get buy-in when they needed it. Stay tuned to our pages @trefordgroup.


Do you have specific questions about stakeholder management? Comment below or reach out via any of our online channels @trefordgroup and we will respond to your questions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

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